Childhood lays the foundation for the rest of a person’s life. The things we remember, people we’ve met, activities, and life events we’ve shared become a part of our fond memories of childhood. Healthy childhood leads to healthy adulthood.
The importance of a happy childhood
The development of children is both physical and mental.
Happy children grow into healthy, well-adjusted, and successful adults.
On the other hand, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have harmful health effects. A childhood dominated by negative emotions can result in poor mental health 1.
Benefits of growing up with happy early life experiences include:
- Better physical health and mental health outcomes 2
- Less behavioral problems 3
- Higher academic performance
- More creative
- Better problem-solving skills 4
- More social skills
- Elevated self-esteem
- Stronger resilience 5
- Better health in adulthood 6
- Increased life satisfaction 7
The keys to a happy childhood
Does nature or nurture determine long-term happiness of your child?
Science tells us that they both contribute to children’s happiness.
Good genes may put a child in a better position to enjoy family life, but parenting and childhood environment can also affect how a child turns out.
There isn’t just one or the other; it’s the interaction between them.
We cannot change genetics (yet). But years of ground-breaking research have revealed several different ways to raise happy, healthy children.
1. Happy kids tend to have warm, responsive primary caregivers
Parents who respond promptly to their children’s behavior and meet their needs create a secure childhood filled with good memories 8. Children feel safe and protected. Good relationships with parents contribute to happy childhood memories.
2. Happy kids receive strong emotional support from adults
Emotions are extremely important to our brains.
Children are happy easily. Have you ever seen those baby videos in which the baby laughs nonstop at the tiniest thing? You can play peekaboo with them for hours on end and they’ll not grow tired of it.
One study found that children between ages 6 and 12 showed high levels of positive emotions, but as they aged, the degree of positivity decreased. The youngest seems to be the most satisfied with their lives, while the oldest seems more hesitant 1.
Why is that?
That is because a happy childhood is not just about giving them positive experience and happy childhood moments. It also involves supporting them and assisting them with negative emotions under difficult circumstances.
When a toddler tantrums, show compassion and provide co-regulation so they can learn to self-regulate. Do not ignore them or punish them.
Show a child unconditional love instead of shaming and blaming them for traumatic experiences.
3. Happy kids have good interpersonal relationships
Happiness can be found in positive relationships with a good friend or family member. Children’s perception of happiness is strongly influenced by their close relationships with peers and parents. Getting praise from friends and family helps promote happiness in them 9.
4. Happy kids learn from good role models with strong values
Parents’ adoption of certain values and behaviors can contribute to the happiness of children.
Researchers have found that the happiness of parents can be transmitted to children through their values and behaviors.
Two of those happiness-inducing behaviors and values include putting a high priority on pro-social and family values over material ones and maintaining a healthy balance between work and leisure10.
5. Happy kids feel competent and have a sense of self-efficacy
Engage children in activities that are aligned with their interests and help them become proficient. Children who develop a sense of mastery and self-sufficiency are healthier, happier, and more successful11.
How children feel valued by their parents and teachers also influences their desire for self-improvement. Motivate their growth mindset by praising their effort and process, not their abilities or talents12.
6. Happy kids have autonomy in life
Children raised by autonomy-supportive parents tend to have better psychological and psychosocial functioning. They feel in control of their own lives 13. They can take charge of their studies and friendships14.
In contrast, controlling parents who do not allow children to make any decisions can cause anxiety, depression, and general unhappiness in children.
7. Happy kids have parents who use reason, not punishment, to teach
Giving children autonomy does not mean they are not disciplined. Children who are disciplined using inductive reasoning instead of punishment show more prosocial behavior15, which is positively correlated with happiness16.
Using punishment to teach is often associated with raising children with mental health issues, such as depression17.
8. Happy kids are kind and grateful
People find happiness in offering kindness and gratitude18.
Children who are kind and grateful perceive more happiness in exciting events. They enjoy better social relationships and are more pleasant in their everyday lives19.
9. Happy kids participates in social activities
Children’s involvement in social activities and community contributes to their feeling of belonging, increases their sense of social connection, and makes them happier.
10. Happy kids exercise regularly
Physical exercise can boost a child’s mood20. Exercising regularly is associated with a host of well-being benefits including happiness, self-esteem, and reduced drug addiction risks21.
Final thoughts on a happy childhood
A happy childhood is essential for a child’s development. However, this doesn’t mean we have to keep our kids happy all the time.
It’s hard for any child to be happy when doing math homework all day, when their parents turn off the internet, when they lose a ball game, or when they have to finish a large serving of green beans. All of these experiences are unpleasant for the child, but they are also educational and beneficial for them.
When a child goes through these inevitable negative experiences, they can develop healthy frustration tolerance with the help of their parents.
So, children don’t need a perfect childhood to be happy. Providing warm and loving support is one of the best ways to help them overcome challenges even with a difficult childhood.
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